You’d think that kids these days would know better than to read what’s inside of a book bound by human skin, especially if those kids are taking shelter in a cabin in the middle of the woods.
And yet! That’s the premise of the less-pleasant incarnation of the Evil Dead saga, which was released last week and is now the number one movie in America. Evil Dead originally started in 1981 with friends Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell’s low-budget, gooey, gory mess that won the hearts of cult movie nerds. Its sequel, Evil Dead II was essentially a remake of the first movie with the camp factor turned to 11 and the following movie, Army of Darkness, is set in a different dimension.
But the current reboot feels uncreative. Watching the new film just made me miss Bruce Campbell’s chin and shots of Raimi running insane through the woods.
While there are a few tweaks to the plot of the camp classic—like the addition of a drug-addiction backstory—the largest change I noticed was the rewriting of Evil Dead’s infamous tree rape scene.
Even Raimi says he regrets including in his original film the scene where a young woman runs out of the haunted cabin, is held down by possessed branches, has her top torn by them, and is penetrated by a branch. The new scene has the screaming lead suspended in air as a slimy vine twists around her leg. There’s no penetration, but like in the original, the woman begin showing signs of possession after the incident. What’s probably most disturbing is that in both versions of the movie is that each woman later tries to explain what happened to them and their friends dismiss her for overreacting.
At the SXSW premiere of the new Evil Dead, I asked director Fede Alvarez why he had included a reworked version of the controversial scene in his film. He conceded that the original draft of the script did not have the scene, but that original producer Robert Tapert told him he needed to keep the well-known tree-rape scene in the film for the fans.
Really? Despite dropping the titillation aspect of the scene from the modern version, the reboot’s version drew thunderous applause from the SXSW crowd on at its premiere. Nothing on that screen could be as disturbing as it was to sit calmly among a thousand or so spectators cheering on an assault.
So it’s a part of the original. Big deal, it’s a reboot. Fans should allow directors to make changes to beloved properties—especially when it’s a change to remove an exploitive scene that should never have been made to begin with. If the first tree rape already bothered people, why did anyone think it wouldn’t bother folks now?
The film has stuffed plenty of fan moments throughout: the cast loses half a dozen arms, and yes, there is a chainsaw. Would some fans miss “that scene”? Sure, but they have the original and always will. What we missed is the chance disrupt the usual horror movie dialog and send the message that titillating rape scenes belong buried in the past—never to be resurrected.